Upta Potlind, Paht 3: Maine Beer Company

This is Part Three of an ongoing series chronicling the Maine Beercation of late July, 2011. To start at Part One, click here.

Zounds! What epic façade be this? Why, verily, ’tis The Maine Beer Company!

Oh yeah. It’s all Taj Mahals and Versailleseses over here. Brewers truly lead lives of runaway opulence and awe-inspiring vistas.

Or, you lease a unit of an industrial space, toss in some equipment and make beer.

Like the Maine Beer Company.

Don’t get me wrong; this was one of my favorite stops of the trip. We just got a little concerned upon our arrival seeing the sign in the window.

Oh, I thought it said ‘Sorry, we’re CLOTHED.’
This makes more sense.

Turns out, they were open. The brewer saw our panicked looks through the window and opened up, saying he’d wait a few minutes before starting the tour in case others showed up. No prob. You’d never guess what the interior of this place looked like if you had just passed by. Bright, screaming colors contrasting the gleaming stainless brew tanks. Very energetic. A row of glasses lined up waiting to be filled.

Put beer in us!

While waiting for others, Lady Friend and I chatted with Dan, the brewer. He started the place with his brother, Dave. Dan is in charge of brewing; Dave does everything else. It reminded me a lot of Bully Boy Distillery: both companies were started by two brothers, and Dan comes from a law background, as does Dave the distiller from Bully Boy. Dave from Maine Beer Co. was a financial adviser, and the brothers grew up in Southeast Michigan. They brew all American-style hop-forward beers, because that’s what they like.

Like Allagash, we started with the tasting first. It wasn’t so much of a comparative tasting as “have a glass of our beer,” since they only had one variety available at the time. It was the Peeper Ale, which was a very nice pale ale. Hop floral nose, bitter hop flower taste, dry and crisp on the finish. Hopped with Cascade, Amarillo and Centennial. It was delicious. I wish they had their IPA available. When I visited the Mayflower Brewery several months ago, I tasted their pale ale and IPA back-to-back and finally had the “aha” moment. Mayflower’s pale ale was delicious, and the IPA was simply a hoppier, stronger tasting version. I’m hoping the same holds true for Maine Beer, and I picked up a bottle of their Lunch IPA (“Lunch” is apparently the name of a humpback whale) at a local liquor store later that day. I did, however, also find a bottle of their Peeper Ale a few days later in Quincy’s Atlas Liquors. The plan is to taste them alongside each other and see where the differences lie.

Notable brewery factoids: Maine Beer specifically buys wind-powered electricity from the power grid. They are a 15 barrel brewery, having recently (Nov. ’10) upgraded from a ONE barrel system. Yes, one. Dan said it was just constant production to keep up with demand, and things are much easier with the larger system, including two fermenters (can do two different beers at the same time). Their old system was sold to Rising Tide Brewing Company, which is located around the back of the same building. More on THAT later.

Being such a small brewery (two employees), Maine Beer purchases their malt pre-milled, eliminating the time and expense of an in-house grain mill. They love to dry-hop for strong aromatics. Their beers take about four weeks, start to finish, with two weeks spent bottle conditioning. No filtering or forced carbonation is used, though the Peeper Ale pours nice and clear. Everything is bottle- and keg-conditioned; there is only natural carbonation, using about 30lbs of priming sugar per batch, and re-pitching the same yeast strain. There is a new test batch currently conditioning in French oak pinot noir barrels from Sidiuri Winery in Napa, which they got for free, though the barrels normally cost $600-$700.

Bottle conditioning. Sleep, my pretties.

One of the tour members asked why they decided to start a brewery. Dan replied with a couple of reasons. Number one, it’s kinda fun. Number two, he and his brother couldn’t buy locally-produced American-style hoppy ales that they enjoyed. Most of those come from the West Coast. So they decided to brew the beer that THEY like. This was also similar to the attitude of Dave at Bully Boy: he said they didn’t make a gin, because they don’t LIKE gin. You have to make a product that YOU enjoy, and are passionate about, otherwise you won’t get a great result.

Maine Beer Company’s target is to reach to a production level of about 4,000 barrels, without wanting to get much bigger. Considering they’ve only been in business for about 18 months, they seem to be doing quite well. They feel that they’ve gotten over the start-up hump, and now have two employees, including their first full-time brewer. Kevin, who was just hired, has production experience at Shipyard and Sebago. While experience helps, Dan says starting a brewery is really about practical business experience. Good to know, since most of the start-up capital investment for the brewery was from the two owners themselves. You pay attention very closely when it’s your own money on the line.

I really enjoyed the tour of Maine Beer… one of the highlights of the trip. There’s something about the attitude of a small operation that you don’t get from the larger breweries. Dan was very laid-back, friendly and willing to answer whatever questions we could come up with. The parallels in philosophy between Maine Beer and Bully Boy really hit me – two groups of brothers who had prior careers and decided to jump into doing what they love: making alcohol. The excitement and spark of ambition is evident, with the brightly painted walls adding a touch of personality to an otherwise cold, industrial setting. Well worth the trip if you’re in Portland.

Plus, they make great beer.

And awesomely minimalist tshirts.

Next up: Rising Tide Brewing Company and Great Lost Bear Brewpub.

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